Quebec’s largest English language weekly newspaper, The Suburban published an anti-homework editorial at the end of August:
Too much homework
As kids go back to school, we need to pay attention to a growing movement among parents and educators calling on homework to be severely reduced. We think they are right.
Childhood is a time for growth and education is an important part of that. But so is being a child. Enjoying your youth and family. School hours have expanded over the years to the point that many school days end at five instead of three. Almost weekly tests in one subject or another are being the norm in many schools. Homework assigned, or studies expected, reach two to three hours a night. It is far too much.
Kids and families need to decompress at the end of a day. Kids need time to be kids and families need time to be families. It can’t just be school, rush home and grab a quick dinner, and back to the books. Monastic existences do no one any good.
We need to ask why this is happening. We all know about the explosion of information. But we have to ask about what happened to the three Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic. We know more is now required. But two hours of homework a night for primary school kids who need their parents to help them is over the top.
We need to examine just how good the “pedagogie” is coming out of Quebec. We also have to look at whether things like not having enough English textbooks is one of the reasons for so much homework on the English side, although in all fairness the problem is just as acute on the French side. We need to look at the qualifications of teachers as well.
Just yesterday, a Montreal newspaper reported that there is such a drastic shortage of teachers that some schools are hiring teachers — and there are almost a hundred — who only have a high school or Cegep diploma. If lack of teachers and large class sizes are problems, then we have to ask the provincial government to make teaching a more attractive profession. Stressing kids and parents is not the answer.
Teachers are professionals. As professionals they are tasked with imparting knowledge to children during a given part of the day. They are also public servants. As such we have a legitimate right to ask why are they not completing their tasks in the appointed time and “offloading” their work onto families?
If Quebec is throwing too much information into the pedagogy, let’s cut it. If the use of homework and weekly exams is some kind of shock treatment by teachers to concentrate the minds and sphincters of students, let’s stop it.
Several years ago two Penn State researchers conducted an international study and found that instead of improving educational achievement, increases in homework may actually undercut teaching effectiveness and worsen disparities in student learning. The study found that most teachers are not making efficient use of homework, according to David P. Baker, professor of education and sociology. They assign homework mostly as drill, to improve memorization of material either in math, science or the humanities. While drills and repetitive exercises have their place in schooling, homework may not be that place.
Just last year, after a parental outcry, the Toronto District School Board decided to study the issue of homework. Reduced it. And the results are having a significantly positive impact on students’ performances.
So how much is enough? Hard to say. But how about two hours total for the week and an additional hour for the weekend. There is a phrase chiseled into the wall of one of McGill’s libraries. “The quiet and still air of delightful studies…” Studies should be delightful, not draconian, from grade school to high school as well.